Degenerative Changes on X-ray

Degenerative changes on X-ray is a non specific term denoting arthritic findings.  This is a common finding related to aging.  This can be seen throughout the spine and joints in the body.  Degenerative changes may or may not be associated with symptoms.  Your doctor will need to correlate what we see on imaging with your complaints.

What do degenerative changes mean?

It means that there are findings on your X-ray related to arthritis.  Often, the specific changes will be described and summarized as degenerative changes.  This can be seen throughout the spine and joints.

Imaging features of degenerative changes

Throughout the spine, we will see degeneration of disks which are between the vertebrae or bones of the spine.  On X-ray, this looks like less space between the vertebrae.   The disks can protrude or herniate and pinch a nerve or produce pressure on the spinal cord.  This can not be seen on X-ray but on MRI.  The spinal joints or facet joints will have arthritis.  There will be bone spurs.

Degenerative changes throughout the other joints will be seen as joint narrowing, spurs, cysts about the joints, areas of bone thickening called sclerosis.   End stage arthritis in the extremities will often be a bone on bone appearance with loss of cartilage.

What else can degenerative changes on Xray be?

Degenerative changes on X-ray have a characteristic appearance and are rarely confused.  Sometimes there can be more aggressive arthritis or process underlying the degenerative changes.  Some arthritis such as rheumatoid can cause joint erosions and other destructive changes which can cause functional limitations.

Infections of joints or spine can lead to rapidly progressive destructive arthritis.  This needs to be diagnosed rapidly.  Chronic appearance of an infected joint can have some features of degenerative change.   Prior fractures can cause progressive arthritis of joints.  Diabetes can cause arthritis to eventually develop in the feet.

Degenerative changes on X-ray is a summary term found on radiology reports to indicate that there are age related changes seen of the joints and spine.  The details will often be described in the body of the report.  These are often asymptomatic and incidental, meaning they are present but not the cause of the acute problems.  Your doctor will need to correlate your symptoms with the imaging findings.  Additional testing such as MRI of the spine may be needed.


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